The Sylva Herald, by Dave Russell

Jackson County’s reported COVID-19 cases jumped by a record-high 40 on Friday, 29 on Monday and 39 Tuesday, according to the health department.

The county currently has 108 people isolating due to COVID-19 infection, the most since the pandemic began. That’s up 42 from 66 last week.

“This is reflective of trends across the state, unfortunately,” said Melissa McKnight, deputy director of the Jackson County Department of Public Health. “North Carolina reported its highest one-day increase of COVID-19 cases on Oct. 16.”

Friday’s dramatic jump beat the county’s previous one-day high mark of 29 reported cases, reached twice in July.

Community spread is the culprit, McKnight said. 

“At this time, we haven’t associated these cases with a cluster or an outbreak,” she said. “We are seeing cases across all demographics and areas in our county. This virus travels better in cooler, less humid weather and as our weather cools, people are spending more time indoors. Further, our community is experiencing pandemic fatigue – they are becoming less cautious and less likely to follow prevention recommendations. We are seeing more instances of family get-togethers, less mask compliance and more.”

No one should take the easing of COVID restrictions to mean the virus has gone away.

“I have to remind our community that we are still in the midst of a pandemic,” she said. “This virus is still here and still very real. We must make smart decisions that protect ourselves, our children, our families and our community especially as we go into the holiday season.”

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the health department reported 908 cases among full-time residents, with 17,873 tests reported to the agency.

Last Tuesday, the health department reported 779 cases of full-time residents and 15,957 tests performed. That’s an increase of 16.5 percent in a week.

The county has had 197 cases per 10,000 residents, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS on Tuesday reported 248,750 cases and 3,992 deaths in the state, with 3,663,340 tests conducted.

Nationwide, cases numbered 8,188,585 and deaths 219,499 as of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Western Carolina University’s dashboard ( reports 45 new cases among students and no employees the week of Oct. 12-Oct. 18.

The WCU dashboard showed 28 new student cases the previous week.

Since July 1 there have been 216 cases among students, eight among employees and five among sub-contractors.

WCU reports 186 students in self isolation/quarantine, including 36 on campus.

The Jackson County Public Schools dashboard ( tracks positive cases among staff and students. There have been nine student cases, with five active as of Wednesday morning. The health department has reported a cluster at Smokey Mountain Elementary School with four active student cases and four active staff cases. Four of the cases have been among Smoky Mountain High School students, with one active case. The other student case was at Fairview Elementary School.

McKnight commends the school system for its handling of COVID-19.

“The public schools have taken great care to keep their students, faculty, and staff safe during these unprecedented times,” she said. “They have worked closely with us to review guidance and recommendations, made changes to their protocols, updated screening tools and made difficult but necessary decisions when needed. Open and constant communication has helped as we work through this together.”

COVID-19 could affect flu season.

“We often try to predict what our flu season will be like based on what the Southern Hemisphere’s flu season is like,” McKnight said. “The Southern Hemisphere’s flu season was very minimal which can be likened to a few factors – hand washing, social distancing, wearing a cloth face covering, and all the prevention recommendations that we were already doing to prevent COVID-19.”

Still, no one should use that information to forgo a flu shot, she said.

“We all should still get a flu vaccine as it is our best tool against contracting the flu,” McKnight said. “We don’t want anyone to get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.”